28 February 2018

Ali Dunnell - Expat in Kenya

Ali Dunnell - Expat in Kenya

We’ve had the chance to talk to Ali Dunnell, 44, a British expat who has moved to Kenya with her family. Mrs Dunnell, who has been living there for about six months, now works as an artist/teacher with a personal blog: Travels with my Art. Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?
A: I am originally from England.


Q: What made you move out of UK?
A: I left England in 2011 because my husband had secured a job in Stockholm, Sweden. Prior to this, we had both decided that we wanted our three young children to have the opportunity of a global experience of life and discover a world of adventures and opportunities, hence the move overseas.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?
A: I am currently living in Nairobi, Kenya. We moved here for my husband to take up a post of headteacher at a large International school. We choose Kenya because we had been living in Tanzania and really like living in East Africa, but because we had been living in very rural parts of the country and we thought Nairobi would give us a much-needed taste of city life.


Q: How long have you been living in Kenya?
A: I have been living in Kenya since August 2017.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?
A: I live here with my husband and our three children. We are in our seventh year of living overseas as an expat family, so we are fairly used to adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle. You need to be flexible, resilient and enjoy trying new things.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?
A: I am going, to be honest, I miss home and my family quite a lot, and we because really are a very long way from home here in Nairobi flying myself and my family back is expensive, so we don’t go back very often. So to compensate for this, I make sure I am in regular communication with friends and family at home, via Skype, What’s App, telephone, email, facebook etc.
If the feeling of homesickness really overwhelmed me, I have two tactics. The first tactic is to give in to homesickness, make a pot of tea, have some marmite on toast and tune in to BBC radio. The alternative tactic which also works for me is to do something I could never do back in rainy England, and something typical for the country I am living in, for example, going for a bathe in a rooftop pool or to going tropical bird spotting - thereby actually enjoying where I am rather that missing the place I am not in.


Q: What do you think about the locals?
A: The locals are wonderful. They are in the main friendly and positive. Although drivers in Nairobi take a bit of getting used to!


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Kenya? How did you manage to find a social circle there?
A: There are lots of ways to meet people here in Kenya, from facebook expat groups to chatting to mums at the school gate. Other ways to meet people are joining clubs, so since I arrived in Nairobi, I’ve joined the Kenya Embroiderers Guild and the Nairobi Music Society, where I am now singing alto 1 in the choir. I usually try to make a mixture of local friends and expat friends.


Q: How does the cost of living in Kenya compare to your home?
A: Kenya is considerably cheaper to live in than England, but as with all cities, Nairobi is more expensive than the more rural parts of the country. Accommodation can be expensive, depending on location and quality. Travel is cheap, although you will need nerves of steel to travel in the buses and matatus, so all of my travel is done by car and petrol is very cheap. If you buy locally produced food and produce then your bills will be very low, however, if you have a taste for imported goods then you will need to part with more money. Fruit and vegetables are unbelievably cheap here, you can have a fantastic variety, pretty much all year round - this is genuinely one of my favourite things about living here, there is so much choice and I have no guilt about food air miles. 


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?
A: It really depends where you go for your coffee, if you go to one of the little street cafes it can be as little as 50 Kenyan Shillings or 50 bobs as they call shillings colloquially (about 50 cents) . If you would like to go to one of the swankier establishments, like Art Caffe or Java House, then it will be nearer to 295 Kenyan Shillings (about 3 dollars) for a coffee.

Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?
A: You can get a basic meal for about 300/ 400 Kenyan Shillings (3 or 4 dollars) per person.

Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?
A: Like everywhere, meal prices vary depending what you are having, but it is approximately 1000 – 1300 Kenyan Shillings (10 – 13 dollars) for the main course.

Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?
A: I am afraid this is completely off my radar these days - I gave up smoking 14 months ago, and because I was a social smoker in order to do this I had to also give up drinking, so I am now T-Total. But I have had a sneaky glance at the drinks menus, and a bottle of wine is about 1000 Kenyan Shillings (10 dollars), and a packet of cigarettes are about 250 Kenyan Shillings ($2.50)


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Kenya?
A: Take advice from work colleagues and see who they bank with. There are a number of suitable banks for expats, and it is worth checking out the different services they offer. While living in Tanzania and Kenya, we banked with Standard Chartered, and this has proved to be a positive decision.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?
A: My experience with Visa and work permits is that you need to be VERY patient and flexible. There is a lot of red tapes here in Kenya, and the authorities are tightening up on this all the time. Make sure your employer helps you with visa applications and work permits, and if you can, but get the ball rolling before you get to the country.


Q: Would you say that health care in Kenya is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?
A: Healthcare here in Kenya is very good, providing you have insurance. You can also go into pharmacies and get advice from professionals there too. Both Nairobi Hospital and Aga Khan Hospital have very good reputations, although this is only second-hand knowledge, as we have been fortunate enough not to had any medical emergencies here so far.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in UK or Kenya? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?
A: The health insurance we have comes with the package from my husband's employer. It is really important that you get health insurance, especially if you are with your children. Health insurance should be included in the package your job offers, if it is not included, ask to see what options they can offer with regards to this. And like your visa I would inquire about this before you actually arrive in Kenya.


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Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Kenya? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?
A: Moving is always stressful, but this time although we were moving internationally, we were moving from a neighbouring country, from Tanzania to Kenya, so it was a little more simple than some of our moves in the past where we have moved across continents. We used some business colleagues from my husband's workplace to help us move, which made things a lot easier, they literally packed up belongings into a van in Dar Es Salaam, then a few weeks later we saw them again in our new accommodation in Nairobi.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?
A: Water shortage. Kenya is known for having a water shortage problem, and these can be very frustrating, but for me as an expat living in Nairobi on a fairly good wage, I can at least buy water. For many Kenyans, particularly in rural parts of the country, this is a very serious and potentially life-threatening problem, with UNICEF estimating that 2.7 million people in Kenya are now in need of relief assistance, due to crop failures and decline of yield. So, not being able to flush a toilet somewhat fades into insignificance in light of these facts.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Kenya?
A: I think the negative side of living in Kenya is as I said in my last answer the water shortages and power cuts. The other negative especially for Nairobi is probably safety. Security is a huge issue, and it really is not safe at all to walk around after dark, and in some areas, it is not safe to walk around during the day either. Saying that, like living in any other big city, you need to be aware of the potential dangers and be careful, and you need to be careful not to flaunt your possessions.
The positives are the temperature and the unbelievable variety of flora and fauna. Because Kenya is on the equator, it is pretty much summer all year round, which means there are stunning flowers growing everywhere all the time and you can always buy a fantastic selection of fruit and vegetables.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?
A: There is so much to do in Parklands, Nairobi, which is the area I live in at the moment. You can go climbing at the indoor climbing wall at Climb Blue Sky in Diamond Plaza. There are two great malls nearby, the Sarit Centre and Westgate and at Westgate, there is also an excellent cinema which gets the new releases fairly quickly (https://www.westgate.co.ke/movies/). There is a wonderful but rather small rooftop swimming pool at Cloud 9 in Clarence House. And if you want to get away from the city, then you can always Karura Forest, which is a huge urban forest right in the heart of Nairobi.
You can also go on safari in Nairobi, just a short drive out of Nairobi’s central business district is the Nairobi National Park, with zebras, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes and even the endangered black rhino roaming around the wide open grass plains all against a back drop of the city skyscrapers. Also just out of town is the unmissable David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Centre.
There are many different kinds of fantastic restaurants especially Indian as there is a very large Indian community here in Nairobi, but my favourite is the amazing Japanese restaurant Furusato. I also love to have coffee and cafe at Art Caffe.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?
A: One of the problems with being an expat is that there is always the thought in the back of your mind that you will ‘go back’. At the moment are children are all under 10, when then get a little older, we may look to head back to Europe, so we can be nearer our family.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?
A: Don't be thwarted at the first hurdle in Kenya. There will be frustration with electricity and water, with bumpy roads and corruption and illnesses that knock you for six and then some more, but the scenery, the people the colours and the climate more than makeup for the negatives.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Kenya?
A: I have found these three websites particularly useful.
The Kenyan Camper
The Expat Wives Club
Nairobi Now – Arts, Culture and Events